Palm trees conjure images of tall trees with slender trunks and lush fronds. Most palms are tropical or subtropical in origin, but some hail from desert or Mediterranean climates. Just about all palms have a laid-back vacation-like vibe, which, coupled with their easy care requirements, makes them excellent houseplants. Palm plant care is easy, and established plants thrive with minimal effort.
Types of Palm Plants
Some palms have a single trunk and compound leaves, known as fronds, that grow from the top of the trunk. Other palm plants have multiple, thin stems that resemble bamboo with narrow foliage. Some of the more common palm houseplants include:
- Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens)
- Banana Palm (Musa oriana)
- Cascade Palm (Chamaedorea cataractarum)
- Chinese Fan Palm (Livistona chinensis)
- Dwarf Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea radicalis)
- Fishtail Palm (Caryota mitis)
- Kentia Palm (Howeia forsteriana)
- Majesty Palm (Ravenea rivularis)
- Manila Palm (Veitchia merrillii)
- Rhapis Palm (Rhapis excelsa)
- Parlor Palm (Chamaedorea elegans)
- Ruffled Fan Palm (Licuala grandis)
- Yucca Palm (Yucca elephantipes)
The palm family is extensive, but not all plants that go by the name palm are actually palm trees. The Ponytail Palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) is a good imposter because this stunner looks like a palm tree but is more closely related to asparagus. The Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta) is another plant that, despite featuring the word ‘palm’ in its name, is not actually a palm.
Ponytail Palm care and Sago Palm care are spot-on to actual palm care, so if you’re looking for care tips specific to those plants, this article is still relevant. Just for what it’s worth, Ponytail Palms and Sago Palms are not true palms.
Palm Plant Light Requirements
Light requirements for proper palm plant care run the gamut. Some plants require bright indirect light, others prefer medium light, and there are even some palms that can live in low light. Get to know your plant and determine what light it needs. Most palms can live in lower light which is what makes them easy care houseplants, although growth will slow down in low light.
Brown or black irregularly shaped splotches on the foliage indicate sunburn, which means the palm receives too much light. Foliage that loses its vibrant color and has a lighter, washed-out look indicates the plant needs more light. Move your plant accordingly when you see these indicators.
How Often to Water Palm Plants
Provide excellent palm plant care by watering when the soil is dry. Some palms prefer a drink when the top few inches of soil are dry; others like completely drying out before getting water. While the timing can vary, how to water palm plants is consistent. Drench the soil until excess water runs through the pot. Water all the way around the root ball for large palms so the entire root system gets wet. Scale back watering in the winter when the plant is dormant.
Best Soil for Palm Plants
Palms need drainage, so the best soil for palm plant care should allow excess water to run through. These plants like moist soil. Shredded bark is an excellent potting mix component because it keeps the mix damp but not soggy. Commercial mixes for palms or cacti are a good choice; even regular potting mixes can work.
Temperature for Palm Plants
Some palms, like the Parlor Palm, can handle chilly temperatures, but most like warm conditions between 60° and 80° F. Average household temperatures are suitable for palms, so if you’re comfortable, your palms are fine. Palms make a lovely addition to a deck or porch, but wait until the temperature is consistently warm before relocating your palm outdoors. Most palms need temperatures above 50° F, but if you want to err on the side of caution, wait until the temperature is above 60° F.
Palm Plant Humidity
Average humidity is suitable for palm plant care. Some tropical varieties may like increased moisture, so locate the plant in a naturally humid area. Otherwise, use a humidifier or a pebble tray with water to give the fronds the moisture they crave. Browning along the edges of foliage indicates the air is too dry.
Palm Plant Fertilizer
Palm plant care can vary significantly from one cultivar to another, but the need for fertilizer is consistent across all types. Palms are not necessarily heavy feeders, but they like routine fertilizer applications. It’s not about giving them a lot of nutrition so much as giving them consistent nutrition.
Feed palms using a fertilizer formulated for palm plant care or a product with increased potassium. Low potassium is a common problem for palms; plant food with 8-2-12, 4-1-5, or something similar is best. Fertilize palms two to three times during the growing season. Typically, feed the plant in early spring, early summer, and again in late summer.
Pruning Palm Plants
The rule for most plants is to remove dead or damaged growth as soon as it appears, but palm trees are rule breakers. Yellow or brown fronds can continue to support palms, and removing them will deny the plant sunlight and reduce its ability to conduct photosynthesis. Don’t be in a rush to trim dying growth. Only remove foliage that is entirely brown and, when in doubt, leave dying vegetation in place. The plant will not look so great in the short term, but with proper palm plant care, you can get it back on track and remove old dead growth as new healthy growth comes in.
When to Repot Palm Plants
If a palm tree could hang a ‘do not disturb’ sign on its pot, it would. These plants prefer being root bound; repotting too often can do more harm than good. Only repot palms when they are completely root bound. Generally, plan to repot every few years.
Another advantage of waiting to repot palms is that it is a method to control the size. If you have a large, tree-like palm, keeping it rootbound will prevent it from outgrowing your space too quickly.
Palm Plant Propagation
Growing from seed is the only way to get new palm trees. These plants cannot be propagated through cuttings, division, or layering. Seeds are the only way to propagate palms, which is tricky for palm houseplant owners. Most palms set flowers, but only when grown outdoors and allowed to reach full size. Houseplant palms do not reach maturity, so they do not bloom or produce seeds. If you want to collect palms, you must source each plant.
Are Palm Trees Pet Friendly?
True palms are pet-friendly. Introducing palm trees into your home is safe if you have pets. The floppy fronds may pique the interest of a curious feline, but your pet will be safe if they nibble on the greenery.
Even though they are not technically palms, it is worth noting that Sago Palms are not pet-friendly and are toxic to cats and dogs. Ponytail Palms, on the other hand, are pet safe.
Palm Plant Styling Tips
Palm trees are the solution if you need height, greenery, or texture. A large Ponytail Palm can frame a sideboard or buffet or add vitality to an otherwise empty corner. Small plants brighten up end tables or make an unexpected centerpiece. Choose a container with a natural look, like an unglazed ceramic, to coordinate with the texture of the fronds. Or use an inner pot and feature a woven basket as a cover pot. Drainage is essential for palms, so whatever pot you choose, make sure it has drainage holes.
Palm Plant Care Tips
Palms can do it all if you want to make a dramatic statement, make your space feel like an oasis, or add greenery and warmth to your home. Palms come in all shapes and sizes, so you can likely find one that has the right vibe. However, palm care varies significantly. Palm plant care is easy, but learn more about your individual plant to ensure it receives everything it needs.